Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Bible, Marriage, and IPV

I am absolutely not a biblical scholar. I am quite relieved that Catholicism is not a sola scriptura kind of gal for many reasons, but I understand and recognize the importance of sacred readings. Please keep this in mind as I write and dissect in this post!

One of my biggest pet peeves as a domestic and sexual violence advocate and as a Christian, is hearing folk profess loud and proud: "God hates (fill in the blank)!" To think that real, live, human people truly believe that the best way to spread the message of Christ and to evangelize/minister to their brothers and sisters in Christ is to start out by professing that our God (who is LOVE) "hates" something, is devastating. Not just to those hearing this message, but for all.

This subject had me so worked up, that I sat in my uncomfortable chair grumbling for a few days this past week. "No way the bible says hate." I told myself. So I looked it up on my handy dandy bible verse cheat sheet, and I see this:

So I pull out my NABRE study bible, flipped to the Old Testament, and prepared to see some sort of translation notes related to the original text to English. While I did not, I came to a greater understanding of the text. Here is the full text:

An interesting note in my study bible reads, "2:14 Companion...covenanted wife: the Hebrew word haberet signifies an equal, a partner. This woman, in contrast to the daughter of a foreign god, shares with her husband the same covenant with the Lord."

What I take away from this, is that Christian marriage is a partnership where both parties are equally responsible. A woman is equal to her man. I find myself less focused on the text "I hate divorce" and more focused on the message that marriage is a covenant and partnership

This quest lead me to want to give a more thorough review of other 'marriage' mentions in the bible. Cathsorority came through and linked me to a page that lists the options for readings during a Catholic wedding. What I found are some common themes that I want to share with you. (All New Testament excerpts.)

This first example relates to the "two become one" aspect of marriage, and comes from an instance where the Pharisees are trying to trick Christ into saying something blasphemous. It shows marriage as something to be taken seriously.  

Ephesians 5 is the reading that I was most familiar with before marriage, and it might be my least favorite if I am being totally honest with you. There is an extraordinarily large emphasis placed on the first portion of this reading in many traditional faiths: "Wives be subordinate!" with little commentary mentioning the reciprocating verse that asks husbands to love their wives "as Christ loved the Church." 

The problem with taking portions of this verse (and any verse) out of context, is that you lose important information and instruction. This is less a call for wifely subordination and dominating husbands, and more a call for mutual devotion. 

Even in times and cultures where women are not valued as equals partners in marriage or in society, this is a call for equality and sacrificial love. 

Do you see where this is going? The constant message in the bible as it relates to marriage, is love one another. The emphasis is continually placed on what God loves, not what God hates. So, let us apply this to intimate partner violence (IPV). (Note: The following lists are by no means comprehensive; more like a rough overview.)

According to these passages and the Catholic faith, marriage is:

-A sacrament. 
-A commitment/covenant/promise.
-Entered into by a man and a woman as equal, consenting partners. 

A relationship involving Intimate Partner Violence (IPV):

-Is consumed with power and control. 
-Gives one partner dominance over the other.
-Warps love.
-Is harmful and devastating to all involved. 

If we combine a sacramental marriage with the consequences of IPV, the relationship lacks some crucial ingredients. When we focus on the aftermath (divorce, separation, etc.) and not on the wrong doing or the warped interpretation of marriage, we are harming survivors. 

Recently, The FaithTrust Institute posted this article, which discusses the fact that religion is a reason that victims stay in abusive relationships. 

It can be very difficult for a devout person of faith to leave an abusive relationship. If you entered into a marriage honestly and with the understanding marriage is "death 'til you part," leaving feels like giving up. If you feel this doubt and it is encouraged by a faith community (both lay persons and pastors) that preach "God hates divorce!" without exception and without a deeper understanding of the context/complexities of marriage or IPV, you feel that there is no way out. You feel conflicted and guilty for not being able to hold up your end of the marriage, when in reality, the marriage was built unequal. The message appears to be "Divorce or Stay."

As Christians, we must have a deeper understanding of marriage as well as IPV. Marriage is not built on the standard cultural view of submission. Marriage was not created to hold one partner (and children) captive. Marriage is love, not abuse. Our faith community must not help abusers to hold their victims hostage.